One never knows what beautiful surprises one will find when walking the streets of Guatemala.
Posts Tagged ‘people’
Necessity is the mother of all inventions,
Guatemalan Modern Society does not show many traces of an independently developed culture, many of the religious rituals, celebrations, etc. are offspring of the colonizers. When you attend a Guatemalan birthday, a graduation, a wedding, you’ll feel like it could be in any European, Western country; the music, the food, the ambiance: true, in Guatemala City, middle class Guatemalans rather sign the happy birthday song in English.
I’m glad there are the indigenous people who refuse to leave their customs.
They’ll attend a wedding wearing their regional güipil (Mayan Dress), despite the rest of the attendees wearing formal Westernized clothing.
I attended a wedding this last Saturday and I was a witness to this cultural phenomena, and in fact, I saw an elderly man carrying his belongings in a “Sute” a large colorful fabric that wraps around them.
If it wasn’t for these little details, many times unnoticed, the even’t would’t have had that Guatemalan touch.
As I’ve said before, cycling is the new trend in Guatemala. There are dozens of cycling events every week.
Today I joined a small group of riders and they took me through some rural roads of the province of Sacatepéquez, near La Antigua Guatemala.
Guatemala has an amazing terrain for this sport, there are hundreds of mountain passes and roads made and used by campesinos and they are great for mountain bikes! And the view and clean air is a plus.
Oh, and something that would only happen in Guatemala; this is the only place in the world where you can go mountain biking on one of these campesino’s dirt roads and find an ice cream truck (pickup), announcing ice cream through the loud speakers.
Yesterday was Guatemala’s first Shuco eating contest.
What are shucos? Shucos are a variation of hot dogs; they are much larger and are prepared with different meats and or cold cuts.
Shuco is a Guatemalan slang word for dirty, and there is a story behind the name.
A young female who used to frequent this area of Guatemala City, where shucos are sold in every corner, was once invited to try them “hot dogs” or “panes”, she replied with disgust: I’m not eating that, they are so “shucos” dirty!
Every time she was in the area, the people who sold them shucos asked her if she wanted to try them shucos, and eventually she decided to try them and she loved them! From then on the name Shuco was used to refer to them.
It was a difficult fight! The winner ended up eating ten of these fully loaded shucos. There were 10 people on second places, they managed to eat 9 of them.
How many can you handle?
Oh, by the way, shucos for the contest came fully loaded with steamed cabbage, guacamole, mayonnaise, mustard and the sausages.
Cycling is the new trend in Guatemala.
Every week there are about a dozen events for cyclists, from beginners to advance and pros. Some of these events are organized by local municipalities and some others are small private efforts.
Last night there was a fast ride for advance and pro riders, organized by Ciclovida Urbana -a small and independent bicycle store- a good 35ish miles ride going from side to side of Guatemala City.
A lot of the cycling events are design to promote bicycle riding as a safe commuting way, something much needed in this gas-vehicle saturated city of ours.
There are a few infrastructure project for bicycle riders too; bicycle path are popping out in a lot of place, in fact, there is one being built right outside my neighborhood, a good 1.5 miles one.
Yes, it is a step on the right directions to have these bicycle paths, but they are just independent patches of cycling infrastructure. The one outside my neighborhood is about 1.5 miles and it connects nowhere. There are much larger paths recently inaugurated on the affluent areas of Guatemala City with the same mistake; connecting nowhere. A lot of times I see these infrastructure plans as plain aesthetics projects.
One more thing, if you stand on the side of one of these bicycle paths, you’ll rarely see bicycle traffic, except for that sporadic rider.
And: One of the things a lot of these campaigns and events to promote the use of bicycles have failed to address is the Guatemalan middle class logic.
I’ve been to dozens of these events and a lot, and sometimes the majority of riders arrive at the event driving their gas consuming vehicles. Come on! if you drive your car to one of these event you are defying the logic of it!
But the worst thing about it is that most of the people who arrive by car live just a few miles from it. Guatemala City and the suburbs aren’t very large, you can ride from any of the suburbs to Downtown Guatemala City and it won’t take you more than an hour.
A couple of months ago I went to one of these event at night, we finish the ride around 10 pm and I rode my bike back home, a good 10 miles. On my ride back I see about a dozens vehicles pass by me with their bikes on their roof rack or trunks. And that’s the logic of the Guatemalan middle class. I honestly think they go to these events not because they really sympathize with the cause or understand its logic, no, they just want to show off or socialize.
Oh, let’s not forget that a car represent social and economic Status in the mind of a Guatemalan. Bicycles were/are the transport of the poor, the peasants and lower classes, fortunately this perception is changing.
And I would even dare to say that these events have not convince 1% of the participants to leave their car at home and ride to work one single day. I hope I’m wrong!
Most residential complexes here in Guatemala are surrounded by walls, have security gates; in my case, my neighborhood has two gated entrances where you have to surrender your state id or your driver’s licence if you are coming inside.
Security protocols are tough, and in many cases lacking common sense: not allowing someone (a friend of mine) to enter because her driver’s licence had expired, not allowing me to move some appliances without a written consent from the neighbors association, and I love this one: I have no respect for security gates, specially if I’m a resident in the neighborhood; I do a lot of cycling and never stop at the gates, a while ago they attached a tree branch to the end of gate where Eli used to sneaked by.
The inner streets are usually patrolled by private security officers, a lot of times with poor weapons training.
They are bad paid, work 48-72 uninterrupted shifts and completely lack knowledge of laws and regulations. I wouldn’t give a loaded gun to anyone under those circumstances.
Personally I hate gated communities, I find them an architectonic aberration and I tend to agree with what Jared Diamond, Author of the book Collapse, had suggested: Gated communities contribute (and have) to the collapse of civilizations. When the elites (or the middle class) isolates themselves from the rest of the country, the problems and important issues, that’s when a civilization starts to collapse.
Very simple, Guatemala has serious issues with crime, infrastructure, health, etc. When is a problem solved by isolating yourself from it?
I won’t sin of sugarcoating anything! So here it is, a brief commentary of a two day trip to Northern Guatemala. I arrived at noon at Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, a small town on the northern-most area of Alta Verapaz. I have been to this town a few times before, just as a transit point. I get here with a big appetite and started looking for a decent place to eat regional food. I asked a couple of people and I was suggested to try a fried chicken place (chain restaurant headquartered in Guatemala City), very regional right! Another of the suggestions was a Cevicheria, a place where ceviches are their specialty. Ceviche at a town very far from a coastal area, any ocean, lake or mayor river, I think that’s a sin. I ended up ordering some of that fried chicken. Personally I find nothing interesting here to photograph, after walking the town streets, I put away my camera and in fact, did not take one single photo here. After lunch, I headed to Playa Grande, a town known by many because it was heavily contested by warring sides during our civil war. The town was and still is the headquarters of the regional Guatemalan Army and the guerrilla forces never got to control the town. Ironically: after the signing of the peace accords, Guatemalan guerrilla forces became a political party, and now they have their regional headquarters based in Playa Grande, not more than 5 blocks from the imposing Guatemalan Army military base. I don’t have much positive to say about these two towns. Their food offering is mediocre, messy streets are the norm, no dominant architectural style, no parks (decent ones) or leisure areas, nothing impressive or appealing at plain view. They are merely disorganized supply and commerce centers for locals. People are great tough! Very friendly and welcoming and they make the best of what they got. I just hope they never read what I have to say about their towns! Food here is an aberration (I’m referring to what’s available to the traveler) ! Unless, unless you get invited to a local’s house to eat some of what they eat at home! Under an scorching heat, I get invited to a local’s house. They offered me a pitcher of freshly made lemonade. Delicious! I’m presented with a plate with a serving of cheese and cream, a separate bowl of black beans and another bowl of hot sauce and some tortillas. Wow! I exclaim to my self! I am a cheese lover, on my last trip to Europe, I brought back at least 5 pounds of cheeses from Northern France and the Netherlands. Since I move back to Guatemala, I’ve failed to find any cheese that would make me sigh. I had a small bite of this cheese and I immediately fell in love! “Lo acabamos de hacer”, we just made it, they tell me and out of the porch they point at the cows the milk came from. Soft, not salted like all regional cheese you find in Guatemala, fresh, with a some character, simply delicious. The cream was exquisite as-well, made fresh everyday at the house. I put some of those black beans on my plate and added some of that spicy sauce to them. Wow! I tell myself once again. It is a spicy sauce made with onions, chiltepes, and loroco and some other herbs, a combination I had never seen. Very impressed once again! Is it a regional style sauce I asked them. No, from here no. It happens that this family migrated from the Eastern region of the country, and that’s the way they make hot sauce where they come from. If it wasn’t for that meal I would have not survived! Kite Season. It is kite season here in Guatemala and I found these children flying their kites at a park in Playa Grande. Laguna Lachuá The entrance to Laguna Lachuá is on the road we had to travel back from Playa Grande to Coban. it was around 5pm when we reached the entrance. We stopped and asked if we can go in. No, you can’t, the park closes at 2 and people have to be out by 4, a park ranger tells us. We talked our way in! You have to go fast he tells us, because it is getting dark. Well, I had flashlights, so darkness wasn’t an issue for us, but we decided to go to the lagoon fast. The lagoon is 4 kilometers from the entrance; we ran top speed to the lagoon. The area is beautiful, clean and it is one of the few wild life sanctuaries in the country. In fact, we heard howler monkeys across the lagoon and when we ran back to the entrance we heard a small troop close to the road. While talking to a local attending a small tienda, he tells me they have even seen jaguars in the area. Cobán, Alta Verapaz Cobán is a city you can easily fall in love with. One advice tough: Make sure you book a hotel room early or you might spend two hours driving around finding no vacancy and of course running out of fuel in your vehicle. El Calvario is a Christian church ontop of a hill in the City of Cobán. Well, the site is sacred to mayan people too. I spend no more than ten minutes on the summit and while I was there, there were four Mayan ceremonies under way. The prayers were spoken in a Mayan language, I could not understand much, except for a few words “cardamomo pantiosh” thanks for the cardamon. I assume they were blessing their crops, “ajau ajpu” Hunter God/Lord. I guess I have to work on my Mayan language skills. To end the trip, we stopped at a restaurant on the side of the road. I always try different foods, so I ordered something from the menu I had not seen before: Salchichon Ahumado, smoked salchichon. Oh man, no better way to leave the region than eating that salchichon with fresh tortillas and black beans. If you ever travel to Cobán, you have to try that, trust me, you’ll love it.
Where are you coming from I asked a female on the march. I came from (near) Raxruha, she says. We left the town at 1am to be here at 7 (am). I saw another woman with a Raxruha style Mayan dress carrying a child on her back. On one of the photos you could see another female who walked all the way with high heels.
I asked another person: Where are you coming from? From Huehue (Huehuetenango Province). And what time you left your town, I asked. We left at midnight because roads are bad, he states. These are people with strong convictions; Hombres de Maiz we called them, Men of Maize.
I rode my bike, they all walked. My bicycle computer tells me it was more than 9 miles from where they started to the renderzvous point at Parque Central. More than two thousand (my count) people walk almost 10 miles to make their voices heard. Their slogans were: We work hard to feed the country and we are excluded from government programs, Our lands are stolen from us to plant bio-fuels (African Oil Palm), The Government says they give us help, but all those are lies, among many others.
It was a very peaceful march, flanked by a light contingent of police forces.
This is the Guatemala we live in, full of injustices and voices not heard.